U.S. Africa Command, the Botswana Defence Force, and the North Carolina National Guard hosted the sixth African Military Law Forum in Gaborone, Botswana, from Aug. 8-10, 2022.
Lt. Gen. Placid Diratsagae Segokgo, commander of the BDF, during welcoming remarks, noted the importance of having legal advisors on a commander’s staff and how following the rule of law was central to successfully executing a military campaign. Segokgo also remarked on the inaugural Women’s African Military Professional Legal Network meeting, which took place Aug. 6, to promote equity in the military.
This legal engagement brought together more than 80 African military legal advisors, magistrates and professionals from 40 countries in Africa to share best professional practices. This year’s theme was “The Legal Dynamics of Preparing the Force for Deployment and Military Operations.”
“Armies are powerful instruments of government, bringing peace and security. They must be resourced and supported with due regard,” said The Honorable Thomas Kagiso Mmusi, minister of defence and security of Botswana, during the keynote address. He further lauded “a smooth integration of women in the military. In 2007, Botswana took a deliberate decision to commission women in the BDF.”
MMusi acknowledged that the BDF faced many challenges but he was committed to ensuring military lawyers and professionals would have a seat at the table when decisions were made in defense of the country.
“When women are fully involved and consulted in efforts to build peace and security, there is a positive correlation with reducing armed conflict, sustaining peace agreements, developing democratic systems of governance, and ensuring long-term security and recovery of communities and nations.” Said Ms. Kundai Mashingaidze, acting deputy chief of mission to the U.S. Embassy in Botswana, during opening remarks focused on the unique contributions of women to peace and security. “Incorporating a WPS strategy requires a whole of government approach. It cannot be the singular domain of the military, or the diplomats, or the politicians. We all need to work together to achieve this.”
Mr. Mark Maxwell, deputy legal counsel for U.S. Africa Command, themed the agenda around networking, enabling, and security.
“This conference discusses the profession of the law and the profession of military arms. How do lawyers support commanders?” asked Maxwell, emphasizing that military lawyers are part of two professions: the profession of arms and the profession of law. The two are complementary to “ensure that commanders make the right decisions.as ultimately a citizen should run to its soldiers, not run from them.”
The current African Military Law Forum President, Nigerian Army Maj. Gen. Yusuf Shalangwa, briefed the status of the AMLF and reminded those present of the mission of AMLF:
“To provide African military legal professionals with a platform to strengthen cooperation and facilitate collaboration amongst themselves,” Shalangwa said. “It promotes military operational adherence to the law and respect for human rights and international humanitarian law. We do this by exchanging best practices, collaborating on legal projects, and networking within the professional community.”
After the opening ceremonies, 85 African delegates – making this AMLF the largest of the five previous iterations – started their substantive program.
The topics ranged from out briefs on the inaugural Women’s African Military Professional Legal Network event to the use of the military in domestic operations to contracting during a pandemic. The presentations and the panels were diverse, calling upon legal expertise from across Africa, including: Uganda, Liberia, Ghana, Burundi, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, and, of course, Botswana.
One panel discussion included Ms. Eyitayo St. Matthew-Daniel, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, attending virtually from New York City. She, along with a panel of contract and procurement experts, discussed the contract and procurement challenges when forces are deployed.
The final substantive presentation was a dialogue between legal advisors and commanders.
Maj. Gen. Mpho Churchill Mophuting, deputy commander of the Botswana Defence Force, said “the legal advisor can ensure we make rational decisions by working closely with their commander. Commanders are normally higher in rank than the legal advisor; commanders need to ignore the rank of the legal advisor.”
Brig. Gen. Cristina Moore, assistant adjutant general for logistics for the North Carolina National Guard, echoing similar themes, said, “Legal advice guides the commander’s decision in both peace and combat. The relationship does not work if you start in combat. Meeting with the legal advisor is a priority and must be recurring to build trust.”
In addition, Mr. Rick Fay, general counsel for the NCNG, and Col. Ontisitse Zak Ntloore, director of legal services for the BDF, gave their best practices on how to advise commanders and enable the commander to achieve mission accomplishment within the rule of law.
“The law enables mission success,” Fay said.
The final AMLF afternoon was dedicated to electing a new AMLF Board and revising its governing document. On the heels of the WAMPLN, which brought a record number of women to AMLF, six of the nine elected positions on the Board will be held by women.
The closing ceremony was hosted by Advocate Abraham Keetshabe, attorney general of Botswana. His remarks focused on the role attorneys play in a civil society. He was very proud that Botswana hosted the AMLF, an event that brought the military and the law together. He emphasized that commanders who have the benefit of lawyers advising them will make better, more informed decisions.
“The law is our compass and that has never been truer than for our nation’s military,” Keetshabe said.